May 28, 2018

Self-defense courses offered at town library

By Heleigh Bostwick

Observer correspondent

October 10, 2013

The Dorothy Alling Memorial Library offers a range of programs for Williston residents, but later this month it will present something new—women’s self-defense classes.

The series of four classes, open to women ages 14 and up, starts Monday, Oct. 21 and is facilitated and taught by nationally certified Rape Aggression Defense System instructors from the South Burlington Police Department.

“This is a great class, it’s very hands-on,” said Library Director Marti Fiske, adding that she’s already recommended the class to a couple of women she knows who run small businesses.

“We have a lot of retail and restaurant businesses here in Williston,” she said. “Many women work or go home alone at night.”

Fiske recalled an incident that happened when she was a student. “I worked my way through college as a waitress and knew at least one woman who was robbed on her way home doing night deposits.”

Although it’s the first time a self-defense course like this has been offered at the library, Fiske stressed that the class isn’t being offered in response to any particular incident.

“We were just looking at programs we haven’t offered before,” she said, adding, “I haven’t heard of other libraries doing this. Usually these types of things are held at the Y or at community centers.”

The library first contacted the Williston Police Department, but it does not currently have any RAD-certified instructors. Police Chief Todd Shepard said the department is looking into it.

“One of the responses to the community survey (conducted by the police department) was significant interest in having a program like that here,” Shepard said. “One of the considerations we face is how is to fund the program initially. We started looking into it about a month ago and it will cost close to $4,000 just to get it started.”

Shepard said Williston used to have at least one trained officer prior to his arrival.

“The program has faded away in the last 5 or 6 years with all of the transitions in the police department,” he said.

The RAD System is a program of realistic self-defense tactics and techniques for women, but is not a martial arts program. Each participant receives a workbook outlining the entire physical defense program for future reference.

Detective Corporal Sarah Superneau of the South Burlington Police Department and three of her colleagues—Detective Corporal Andrew Johnson, Corporal Kevin Grealis and Sergeant David Solomon—are teaching the classes, which will be held at the library.

“It’s extremely empowering for women,” Superneau said. “The techniques are easy to do and anybody can do it. We’ve had women who are 82 and 91 years old in the classes.”

Although each of the four classes is similar, the first class focuses on learning some basic defense moves like blocks, as well as what women can do to protect themselves before anything even happens.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” Superneau said. “If something doesn’t feel right, get on the phone or cross the road. Have your keys in your hand because you can always use your keys as a weapon.”

Superneau also advocates using outdoor lights triggered by motion sensors and using lights that turn on automatically inside your home, as well as keeping your curtains and shades closed at night.

In the second and third classes, participants learn self-defense tactics they can use, and in the fourth class the women test out their skills.

“The instructors dress up in protective gear and act out various scenarios and the women get to try out the techniques they’ve learned,” Superneau said.

Preregistration is required and class size is limited to 10 participants. Once a class is filled, the library will start a waiting list.

Five women had signed up for the course as of press time, including resident Deb Macdonald.

“I’m a retiree, but I’m still out and about and active in the community,” she said. “I think it’s important actually for all women to take a course like this, not even based on my age or activities. I think it’s an important skill.”

Macdonald said she thinks all women would benefit from some form of self-defense training.

“If we can develop an awareness in situations that can be potentially dangerous, if we can learn to diffuse situations that can be potentially dangerous, those are all going to be better things,” she said. “And then, ultimately, if we need to defend ourselves in a situation that is dangerous, the more knowledge you have and the more experience you have, the more confident you can be.”

Participation in all four classes is highly recommended, but not required. As with all of the library’s programs, the classes are offered free of charge.

For more information or to sign up call the library at 878-4918 or visit

For more information about the RAD System visit

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